In 2008 I visited Budapest and was tempted to stay at the famous spa hotel the Gellért after watching Michael Palin’s ‘New Europe’ when he featured the hotel on his programme. This is a four star hotel and ordinarily a bit beyond my budget (actually quite a lot beyond my budget) but with a bargain flight at only £11.34 return I considered the additional cost of a superior room with a view over the Danube to be completely justified. The hotel was conceived at the height of Austro-Hungarian Imperial power at the beginning of the twentieth century but by the time it was completed in 1918 Hungary was on the losing side in the First-World-War and was about to be severely punished by the victors by ritual humiliation and a massive reduction in world status.
The hotel is a reminder of those powerful days of Empire with a towering façade, which is in need of a bit of restoration, and an entrance lobby of huge dimensions and acres of wasted space. After check in a bell hop tried to wrestle my bag from me but I held on to it and explained that I though I would be able to find the room unaccompanied. I don’t mind someone carrying my bag for me it’s just that I am never sure how much to tip for the service. They haven’t done a great deal of work so I am not minded to tip generously but a couple of old coins also seems embarrassingly mean to me.
The second floor room was excellent, well decorated with substantial furniture, a mini bar with only slightly above prices (a big bonus) and a balcony with a view of the Liberty Bridge crossing the Danube with Pest sprawling away on the other side of the river.
One of the main attractions of the Hotel was that attached are the famous Gellért baths, which although originally built as part of the hotel are now owned and run by the local council but with free admission to hotel guests. Palin used the baths and made it all seem a bit confusing and a lot of trouble but I can confirm that there was no truth in that at all, the instructions were clear and all of his theatrical pacing of corridors looking for the lift was all contrived for TV effect.
He was right about the lift though, it is an old fashioned cage structure with doors that slide closed with a penitentiary like rattle and metallic thud and there is an old lady attendant who provides an admission card to the baths on the way down. Once inside the entrance hall I realised very quickly that this is not at all like your average council swimming baths. After changing we used the thermal baths that were a very pleasant 38˚ centigrade and housed in a room of marble pillars, colourful mosaic floors and pools of crystal blue water with alleged magical healing powers. Next door was the swimming pool with cream mosaic floor and sky blue tiled walls and a high glazed ceiling proving soft natural light. Budapest is famous for its thermal baths and these were busy with local people relaxing in the water after a day at work and personally I enjoyed the experience after five hours of walking around the city.
I don’t stay in grand hotels every time that I go away and modern hotels have their own advantages but every so often it is nice to choose one of these lovely old places for a couple of nights return to the past.